Shakespeare staged as you like it in Abbey Gardens

An open air performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It by Bury Theatre Workshop. Photo: Dennis O'Le

An open air performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It by Bury Theatre Workshop. Photo: Dennis O'Leary - Credit: Archant

As You Like It is Shakespeare’s musical comedy. David Henshall discovers it works well as a piece of picnic theatre

An open air performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It by Bury Theatre Workshop. Photo: Dennis O'Le

An open air performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It by Bury Theatre Workshop. Photo: Dennis O'Leary - Credit: Archant

It is perhaps the perfect Shakespeare picnic play. As You Like It has a bit of everything: drama, cross-dressing, mistaken identity fun and lots of romance. Not too many stories end up with three couples getting married as they do in this one to provide one of the happiest of endings.

As You Like It is also more musical than most of the Bard’s work with several songs and it is the choice of Bury Theatre Workshop for their summer outdoor show at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket and at the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds

There is skulduggery at first, of course, with the good Duke Senior being usurped by bad Duke Frederick and sent into exile, an event that forces Senior’s daughter Rosalind to flee after him in due course, but not before she’s fallen in love with the son of a knight when she sees him win a wrestling match.

When she follows her father into living rough in the Forest of Arden, for safety, Rosalind disguises herself as a man and her best friend, wicked Frederick’s daughter Celia, goes with her in peasant clothes.

An open air performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It by Bury Theatre Workshop. Photo: Dennis O'Le

An open air performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It by Bury Theatre Workshop. Photo: Dennis O'Leary - Credit: Archant


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In the woods they meet all manner of characters as well as Duke Senior’s exiled party and Rosalind bumps into handsome Orlando again because he has chased into the forest after her. But he doesn’t recognise the love of his life dressed as a man called Ganymede, and she has a lot fun testing how much he fancies her.

The melancholy Jaques is an Arden-dweller, always observing and disputing the hardships of life and he has a number of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches such as “All the world’s a stage” and A fool! A Fool! I met a fool in the forest. The play is also the origin of the phrase “too much of a good thing.”

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Touchstone is another character who makes life in the forest interesting because, as usual, the Bard fills his clown with wit and wisdom as well as the ability to make people laugh.

Tim Lodge is directing and says the comedy was picked because “we made a policy decision not to do the darker tragedies outside. They rarely work as well because,” he adds with a laugh, “when audiences are having a picnic they don’t want people having their eyes put out and that sort of thing”

Rosalind is one of the top women’s roles in Shakespeare and Lodge is very happy with his choice of Charlotte Thomas. “She does the job spectacularly, makes the character vibrant and energetic. Orlando, on the other hand, is a bit of a drip but well played by David Cobbledick. And Dennis O’Leary makes a good Jaques

“In Shakespeare’s day, Rosalind would have been played by a boy, so you would have had a boy playing a girl disguised as a boy impersonating a girl.”

Tim Lodge is very happy with the sites at Stowmarket and Bury where, last year, they did Much Ado About Nothing. We have a dressing tent for the women, one for the men and another for the props and the set-up is very similar to the Globe at Southwark. I always say”, he adds with another laugh, “that we could take our plays straight to the Globe without any rehearsal because we act as though we are actually there.”

As You Like It is often called a musical comedy because of the number of songs in the play. They are Under The Greenwood Tree, Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind, What Shall He Have That Killed The Deer and It Was a Lover and His Lass. John Goldman, who is playing Touchstone, will be accompanying the singers with his guitar.

As You Like It is at the Abbey Gardens, Bury St Edmunds, 4 – 8 July. Tickets on the gate or www.burytheatreworkshop.org.uk. Enquiries 01359 259361.

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